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Missed hydro opportunity


The possibility of further development of the Exploits River for hydro has been lost for the foreseeable future. With the closure of the Stephenville newsprint mill the death knoll was sounded for the development of further hydro projects by Abitibi-Bowater on the Exploits River, at least for the time being.

My perspective - The possibility of further development of the Exploits River for hydro has been lost for the foreseeable future.

With the closure of the Stephenville newsprint mill the death knoll was sounded for the development of further hydro projects by Abitibi-Bowater on the Exploits River, at least for the time being.

The reason is simple.

The Stephenville mill was the only major recipient for the proposed hydro. When Ed Byrne and his associates squashed the AbitibiBowater proposal to save the Stephen-ville mill, by developing the Exploits, it was a lost opportunity.

Local concerned citizens were of the opinion if the Exploits can't be used to prop up the Grand Falls mill it should not be used to save Stephenville. Somehow government was victim to the lobby effort and the Abitibi proposal, which I thought had merit, was crushed like a used pop can.

Government spun the story as only governments can. They portrayed the company proposal as being one sided and greedy. It was spun on all of the open line shows with Abitibi painted as the villain. This simply wasn't true. Profits gained from the sale of the proposed hydro would be used to subsidize paper manufacturing in this province. Government eventually offered up $10 million annually to help save Stephenville but the Abitibi proposal to develop the Exploits River went nowhere. Perhaps it was Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro who scuttled the proposal in the end or maybe the politicians buckled under public pressure.

The company was told many times by both the Liberal and Conservative governments that the formula to solving the woes of the paper business "lies in your own back yard." The political arm of government kept saying we understand but did little to help get the proposed hydro project through the red tape. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

Now, with the Stephenville mill all but demolished because it could not come up with a business plan to help offset high hydro costs, I wonder who or why anyone would look to the Exploits River for additional hydro development at this time. Who would purchase the hydro once it was developed and who would be the potential developer? Let's face it, the hydro saved from the closure of the Stephenville mill can now be placed back on the grid and used elsewhere.

I think the Exploits River environmentally is still a great option for future consideration. But the cost to develop Badger Chute and Red Indian Falls as a possible hydro site isn't cheap. Maybe, just maybe, someone on the new executive team at AbitibiBowater would be willing to look at the Exploits River once again but with the high debt load on the Abitibi books and with profitability in the toilet, I doubt if anyone will give it a second look right now.

If the province is already looking to the Lower Churchill and to the potential of wind power, then there is really no reason to look any time soon at more development on the Exploits River. For some that might indeed be good news. I see it as a missed opportunity.

The construction of a major hydro facility on the Exploits could put a fair junk of cash into the local economy while at the same time possibly help the paper company return to profitability. The environmental impacts, I feel, are few and any future development could help Badger with its flood problem. But it's all unlikely to happen. It's all history and can go down in the books as possibly another lost opportunity to help the struggling paper industry. They say in life, timing is everything.

Perhaps now the critics of the Abitibi proposal, which was to further develop their hydro assets on the Exploits River, can look at the river for its vast tourist potential.

(Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be reached at Roger.Pike@nf.sympatico.ca.)

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